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Now that the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that marriage be open to gays and lesbians, it is time to consider the question that pops up more than mushrooms after a spring rain. How would the legalization of gay marriage harm current and future heterosexual marriages?

The answer at first glance is that it wouldn't, at least not in individual cases in the short run. But what about the longer run for everyone?

It is a superficial kind of individualism that does not recognize the power of emerging social trends that often start with only a few individuals bucking conventional patterns of behavior. Negative social trends start with only a few aberrations. Gradually, however, social sanctions weaken and individual aberrations became a torrent.

Think back to the 1960s, when illegitimacy and cohabitation were relatively rare. At that time many asked how one young woman having a baby out of wedlock or living with an unmarried man could hurt their neighbors. Now we know the negative social effects these two living arrangements have spawned: lower marriage rates, more instability in the marriages that are enacted, more fatherless children, increased rates of domestic violence and poverty, and a vast expansion of welfare state expenses.

But even so, why would a new social trend of gays marrying have negative effects? We believe there are compelling reasons why the institutionalization of gay marriage would be 1) bad for marriage, 2) bad for children, and 3) bad for society.

1. The first casualty of the acceptance of gay marriage would be the very definition of marriage itself. For thousands of years and in every Western society marriage has meant the life-long union of a man and a woman. Such a statement about marriage is what philosophers ...

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February 2004

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